Range anxiety. I felt it intensely last week when I took a Ford F-150 Lightning on a roughly 300-mile trip from Detroit’s northern ‘burbs to a little town in Ohio called Pandora, about 19 miles southwest of Findlay. After 9 hours on the road, I limped home with the equivalent of about a gallon of fuel left.
The trip served two purposes.
The primary mission — my first extended journey in an electric vehicle — was to test the battery-powered F-150 for consideration for North American Truck of the Year, of which I am a juror. I also wanted to try out various chargers and apps and sample the public charging infrastructure.
My secondary mission was to pick up a good used 3.08 rear axle for my classic Triumph TR7, which is now motivated by a 3.9-liter Rover V-8 and a four-speed automatic transmission.
The F-150 Lightning aced the test. Everything else — not so much.
Before the trip, I consulted with Mike Levine, Ford’s expert on all things to do with trucks and SUVs. I wanted to know if the Lightning has a sweet spot where it cruises most efficiently. I told him my plan, that once headed south on Interstate 75, I would get in the right lane and set the cruise control at around 60 mph or 65 mph to conserve power.
Going 70 mph or more was not a priority since time on the road wasn’t a factor. Levine said Ford engineers had worked hard to ensure that the miles driven match the range shown in the instrument cluster. Just drive the truck, he advised, don’t worry about range melting away faster than the distance driven.
Still, an F-150, or any truck, is about as aerodynamic as a brick. The faster you go, the more energy it takes to punch a big, heavy pickup through the air. So, not only did I stick to my plan, I tucked in behind semis when possible and did a little NASCAR-style drafting.
Here’s what I learned in a long day behind the wheel of an EV: It takes more than preparation and planning to drive long distances in a battery-powered vehicle. You also need luck.
The F-150 Lightning I tested has a maximum range of 300 miles with the battery at 100 percent. But Ford doesn’t really want you to charge to more than 90 percent for daily commuting, because that’s the optimum for prolonging the life of the battery. That means you essentially have 271 miles to work with.
My trip was 272 miles total, which meant somewhere along the way I’d have to find a public charging station to put some miles back in the battery. I used Plugshare.com to locate chargers on my route; I found several that I could use if the miles disappeared faster than planned.
The F-150 performed flawlessly on the way to Pandora. Because the temperature was around 60 degrees, I didn’t need to use the heat or a/c, so that helped with energy usage. I kept a wary eye on the odometer and the range indicator. Sometimes a mile would come off the range indicator when I had only driven 9/10ths of a mile, other times I drove a mile and 1/10th before the range ticked down. So, as Levine said, the range indicated is accurate. And that’s important, because trust is a huge factor in an EV. You have to trust it to drive as far as the range shown in order to plan your charging stops.
The author had no luck charging an F-150 Lightning at one of Tesla’s supercharging sites near Toledo.
I left home with 258 miles of range and I arrived in Pandora about three hours later with 118 miles of range, which was not enough to get back home. Once the axle was loaded and secured, I hit the road, unsure how 175 pounds of payload in the bed would affect energy usage. Turns out, not much.
Using the F-150’s charger locator, I was directed to a ChargePoint site a few miles away from the Findlay exit off I-75. No problem, right? Wrong. That charger, located behind a secure fence at an AEP Energy facility, was not for public use. When an AEP truck approached, I asked the driver if he knew of any public chargers nearby and he directed me to a Denny’s about 3 miles away. “There are about 10 chargers right behind the restaurant,” he said.
Those chargers were not showing up in the Ford app — and for good reason. I arrived at the Denny’s only to discover it was a Tesla charging facility. More miles burned and now I was getting panicky, wasting precious miles driving around looking for chargers.
A Level 3 charger at a Meijer store provided 90 percent charge at a cost of $30.
I got back on I-75 and planned another stop, this one at Hollywood Casino on the south side of Toledo. I arrived about an hour later with 69 miles of range, still a long way from home. The casino is a big place. There are five levels of parking and no signs showing the location of any chargers. I pulled over and called Hollywood Casino and got connected to an operator in a remote location who could not tell me where the chargers were. So then I burned more miles driving through each level until I found the chargers on the first level of the parking garage.
Ideally, you want to plug your EV into a Level 3 charger because you can charge quickly — getting as much as 80 percent charge in under an hour. But Level 3 chargers are expensive, around $80,000 or so, and many businesses offer only Level 2 chargers, like the kind used in homes. It takes hours to get reasonable miles from Level 2 chargers. Hollywood Casino has a bank of these Level 2 chargers.
So I plugged in, went inside and ate a $20 hamburger. I inserted $30 into a slot machine and collected 55 cents 10 minutes later. I wandered around for another 30 minutes, then made my way back to the F-150 Lightning. There was now 90 miles of range in its battery and I was still 73 miles from home. Then I thought of another charger not too far out of my way — in the employee parking lot at Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
There was an accident in the southbound lanes of I-75 that had traffic stopped or crawling for about 10 miles at the state line — from Toledo north to Temperance, Mich. Had that wreck been in my direction, I likely would have drained the battery before my next planned stop, forcing me to spend valuable time and range on yet another search for a public charger.
I finally made it to Dearborn with fewer than 30 miles of range on tap, plugged in and waited 30 minutes for some power, then landed in my driveway with 32 miles — enough to get to a local Level 3 charger.
The author had less than 35 miles of range in the F-150 Lightning upon returning home.
The trip to Pandora was a breeze and a lot of fun. The F-150 Lightning, at speed, is as quiet as a library on a Sunday afternoon. The trip home, however, was nerve-wracking and proved the charging infrastructure still needs a lot of work before EVs are as seamless on long trips as traditional vehicles.
Some other observations:
Looking back on my trip, stress and all, I can say: “Damn, that was fun.” Now. I just hope my used axle works well.
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